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A Quebec appeals court has upheld a ruling that found the province's police watchdog issued a biased news release harming the family of a man who was killed by police in 2017.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

The Quebec Court of Appeal has upheld a lower court decision which found that the family of a Montreal man killed by police was harmed when the province’s police watchdog issued a biased news release.

The family of Koray Kevin Celik sued the agency, known as the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, arguing the news release harmed their honour and dignity and caused them psychological distress.

A provincial court judge ruled in the family’s favour in 2021 and awarded Celik’s parents and brothers a total of $30,000 in damages.

The provincial government appealed the decision, arguing the BEI, which investigates whenever someone other than an on-duty police officer is killed or seriously injured during a police operation, had done nothing wrong. Even if it had, the province contended, those faults hadn’t caused damages to the family.

The appeal court rejected both of those arguments.

“In this particular case, the judge could have reasonably concluded that the BEI committed a fault by publishing a news release that showed a lack of impartiality,” Justice Simon Ruel wrote in his Dec. 18 decision, which was endorsed by the other two judges on the three-judge panel.

Putting out a news release that claimed its investigation demonstrated certain facts before recounting only the police version of events gave the release the appearance of bias, Ruel wrote.

The trial “judge concluded that there was a causal link between the publication of the news release and the damage to the respondent’s honour, psychological distress, anxiety, loss of enjoyment of life and humiliation,” Ruel wrote.

While Ruel found errors in the judge’s decision, he said none of them were serious enough to merit any changes to the ruling by the appeal court.

Celik, 28, died after police were called to the family home in western Montreal by his parents, who were worried he would drive while intoxicated.

The BEI news release alleged that he was aggressive after police arrived, that he refused to follow orders and that after three police officers took him to the ground, he continued to resist until they realized he was unconscious.

His parents alleged that when police arrived at the home, an argument began after Celik shouted at a police officer to turn off her flashlight. The parents alleged the officer struck Celik with the flashlight and then a baton before three other officers tackled him to the ground and beat him. The parents alleged he stopped breathing after police used a Taser on him once he was already immobilized on the ground.

A coroner’s investigation concluded that police used unnecessary force, however no trace of Taser use was found. A pathologist attributed his death to a mixture of alcohol and drugs “in the context of excited delirium syndrome.”

Several medical groups, including the American Medical Association, have rejected the existence of “excited delirium.” Last year, the British Columbia Coroner’s service said it no longer recognizes “excited delirium'' as a cause of death.

No police officers were charged in connection with Celik’s death.

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